Celebrity athletes lose endorsements when they lie; the rest of us lose our integrity.
Don’t tell a lie, our parents told us. Even so, most of us tell a few every day, but they’re usually whites ones. Some are even meant to be nice: “You look great in that dress.”
The majority of people learned early on not to tell whoppers because the truth is nearly always discovered and we end up in way more trouble than if we tell the truth in the first place.
Elite athletes caught using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) usually ignore this lesson. First, they choose to cheat, and then they deny it (AKA lie like a rug).
The athlete-PEDs credo goes something like this: When you answer the phone with a reporter on the end, deny; when the mike is turned on at the news conference, deny; when the books come out, deny, when you take the oath in front of the congressional committee, deny.
But when the mountain of evidence crashes down and “deny” is a worthless word and you have no cards left to play and the cacophony of crisis is so loud you can’t think straight, you must step over the line into truth and, finally, say, “Yes, I did it.”
Despite decades of efforts to rid sports of cheating athletes, the parade of deniers has continued to grow. Alex Rodriguez is the latest athlete in the news. The New York Yankees star third baseman reportedly tried to purchase documents from a Miami clinic in order to keep them from officials in Major League Baseball. The New York Times reported Rodriguez received cocktails including Human Growth Hormones (HGH) and testosterone creams on a fairly regular basis.
Earlier this year, Lance Armstrong admitted like a schoolboy to Principal Oprah that he lied and bullied his critics; just before the Super Bowl, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis admitted he used deer antler spray even though it contains a banned substance, as has PGA Tour player Vijay Singh.
When pressed why, the cheaters usually cry “everyone else is doing it.” And who wants to be left behind, especially when taking the forbidden cookie makes you rich, famous and a celebrity athlete who graces the cover of Sports Illustrated and the couch on David Letterman. The dream lived large.
In his come-to-Jesus moment with Oprah, Armstrong laid it out: “This story was so perfect for so long …. You overcome the disease, you win the Tour de France seven times. You have a happy marriage, you have children. I mean, it’s just this mythic perfect story, and it wasn’t true.”
The spoils of victory and allusions to being a cancer-survivor role model—all of that aside—Armstrong and his guilty compatriots were faced at one point with a choice: Cheat or not? Yes or no.
Retired pitching ace Jack Morris said this about athletes and PEDs to The Globe and Mail: “You have a choice and some guys convinced themselves they needed it.”
Due to mental illness, trauma or other troubling circumstances, it can be difficult for people to make choices with clarity and perspective. But for most of us, making choices is fairly unclouded if we dig down to our core.
Instinctually, I know the right answer to most every choice I face. Without thinking, I can feel it. But then I start to think, rationalize and build a case until I convince myself it’s OK to go against my instinct. It’s OK to drive fast because I’m late, it’s OK to pay cash so I don’t have to pay tax.
We can rationalize our way through anything. I was telling a friend that I felt like a junkie the first time that I downloaded music from iTunes; that I spent about $85 in one sitting and I still wanted more.
He said that he downloads from a free sharing site. “I go to their concerts. They get lots of money from me. It works out.”
Perhaps Taylor Swift, for example, won’t miss the money, especially when tickets for her June concert at the Air Canada Center in Toronto range from $49 to $1255, but taking someone’s creation without paying is stealing. At least to me.
And ultimately, there really isn’t much difference between someone ripping off a music star, or an elite athlete who takes PEDs to rip off his competition.
Sure, the scale is not proportionate, but if we make decisions that go against what we fundamentally know and feel is right, then we are out of integrity with ourselves and, ultimately, with everyone around us.
Read more in Men’s Work: We Do Not Know What You Mean Unless You Say I